Blurring the Lines

Amilcare Ponchielli
Amilcare Ponchielli

The verdict in the “Blurred Lines” case has occasioned a flurry of gleeful comparisons, especially among classical music aficionados who play the Star Wars theme, followed by clips from Stravinsky and Strauss, among others.

Favorite pieces are “The Dance of the Hours” by Amilcare Ponchielli which became Allen Sherman’s “Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh” and “Like I Do.” There are many potential dissertations here. J.S. Bach’s “Sleepers Awake,” which became “Whiter Shade of Pale.” A more contemporary all-rock version is George Harrison lifting from “He’s So Fine” for “My Sweet Lord”).

Teresa Brewer who sang "Like I Do."
Teresa Brewer who sang “Like I Do.”

Slate has an interesting take on how the decision in favor of Marvin Gaye’s estate hurts music lovers everywhere.

Here’s an idea: how about some originality?

The lesson seems to be lift all the music you want as long as the original composers have been dead for at least seventy years.


credit: NPR
credit: NPR

It’s Friday, actually this is being posted on Pi day, but I don’t go there. It’s also been one of those days all week, so here’s a link to some ear candy for cats from Salon.

I could only access two of the selections as “Spook’s Ditty” came up as an error message.

“Cozmo’s Air” bore a resemblance to an electric drill. I didn’t quite hear the cat connection to “Rusty’s Ballad.”

The feline in the photo looks just like the late lamented Leo, including the semi-blissed out expression.

Question: What were the feline quality ratings?

HARO Pitch

News Microphone Computer Online Podcast’s blog has been arriving in my inbox for almost a year now. I’m not sure how it started, but it serves up sometimes informative and sometimes infuriating advice on writing and publishing. “10 Tips on Properly Pitching Your Book to a Reporter on HARO” offers some of each.

Before I get to the actual content, let me say I hate the “10 things,” “5 ideas,” “3 essentials” as headlines and lead-ins. We should blame David Letterman for starting the trend, but many have followed in his footsteps. The disciples include Poynter, which should know better. That “Top 8” may give rise to another entry.

As to the BB advice, I would put No. 5 on the “Do” list first: “Make sure everything you write is true, factual, and free from grammar or spelling errors.” That piece of advice should be posted above every writer’s desk and followed on every communication regardless of format or content.

BB’s No. 1 “Do,” following the five “Ws,” is essential for news stories and should be used in press releases. Feature stories, however, often employ a narrative lead and save at least some of the key information for later. While the writer making the pitch may want to use 5Ws, it’s good to bear in mind that the finished product may not read that way.

The “Don’t” side offers five of the same thing, which is: follow the instructions given in the HARO query. BB didn’t take its own advice about concision.

In the end, the post may not have been all that helpful. It has been up for a month and garnered only five comments.

What I’m About To Read


This book is on its way. As soon as it arrives I’m dropping it off for autograph … at my dentist’s office. Turns out that the man I know as Dr. Z. (Peter Zaidel, DDS ) has such a passion for the Civil War he translated it into a book.

He wrote Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories, with Dione Longley, who used to head the Middlesex County Historical Society.

I had a chance to examine a copy of Heroes when I went for my semi-annual cleaning on Monday. Dr. Z. has kept my teeth in my head, at considerable angst to both of us, for many years. Sometimes it feels like a random evil Twelve Days of Christmas, three implants, two new fillings, five root canals, etc., etc.

Heroes looks fabulous with photographs of and letters written by a selection of the thousands of young men who fought for the Union. Wesleyan University hit all the right notes with the production values.

Dr. Z. contributed a vast number of photos from his own collection. I promised to give him copies of great granduncle Charlie Hudson’s enlistment, discharge, and disability pension papers to add to the trove.

Even with the singular last name, I might not have figured out that my dentist and the author were the same man. He’s listed on the cover as “Buck” Zaidel. Fortunately I’d run into someone years ago who said, “Oh, yeah, Buck. I know him.”

Stay tuned for a review.

Thin Mint Confidential


A package of thin mints found its way into the house recently. I ate them, but they just didn’t look or taste the way I remember. Just to be clear, my last encounter was long ago. They’ve always been the only Girl Scout cookies I’ve ever liked. The other selections had either too much sugar or too much coconut or not enough flavor.

The first hint that something was wrong occurred when I opened the package. What I saw looked nothing like the photo above. What fell out were wafers with scalloped edges and holes poked in the top. Next problem: they had acquired the cloying sweetness of the other G.S. cookies. Plus, the mint didn’t have that earlier delicacy. Except for the size, these babies could have subbed for Altoids.

My search for answers began with a surprise from the LATimes. The map says Connecticut falls in the orbit of Little Brownie Bakers, except the cookies look like the ABC Bakers line. At this point in the research I was hoping that if we crossed the divide, things might improve.

Then in a search for an image, I came across this HuffPo article. Let me say first that I take serious issue with the boss of a company dealing cookies for his kid. I’ve been on the receiving end of this ploy. It builds serious resentment.

Otherwise, John P. David nailed the problem and found the answer. Butter and eggs have disappeared from these formerly tasty treats. What a disappointment.

Here’s a suggestion. Just as we have bread, pizza, etc. with or without gluten, could we please have a lacto Thin Mint option?

What I’m Reading Now

whiteAnother in an occasional series. This time it’s a book that I began some time ago, put down, and resumed during last month’s trip to NYC.

Mother was responsible for my interest in Wilkie Collins. She said The Moonstone was the first piece of fiction for adults she ever read. As recently as last year, a critic said the book “is often said to be the godfather of the classic English detective story, its founding text.” Listing as number nineteen  among the best one hundred novels of all time, Robert McCrum of The Guardian puts the work in the context of British history when imperialism reigned.

The Moonstone led to an interest in The Woman in White. This one is more of a slog but still fascinating. Though I’m less than a quarter through, it seems the mystery of the woman’s identity has been solved and all that is required is to wrap up the issue of unrequited love on the part of the protagonist. Yet I know there will be many twists and turns before all is resolved.

My favorite bit to date is Professor Pesca (much better than Professor Fishing especially since he can’t swim).

A Great ‘Bye Bye Birdie’


There are a great many ways in which Birdie lives on – and others in which it is very much a creature of its time. I didn’t post on Friday because I attended the Middletown High School Drama Club’s outrageously fabulous production of the musical.

Here’s a brief synopsis for those who don’t know the story. The couple sitting next to me who were about my age did not. Conrad Birdie, an Elvis Presley stand-in, is about to join the Army. As propounded by his manager/song writer, the story is that he volunteered. The truth is that he fought long and hard to escape the clutches of Uncle Sam. Facing monetary disaster and the loss of their cash cow, Birdie’s manager’s feisty but seriously exploited secretary on the fly concocts a plan to have Birdie share a last kiss with one of his millions of screaming teen girls fans.

Here’s my review with some observations about how the book doesn’t always fly in 2015.

As mentioned, this was a spectacular Birdie. The star was Cameron Steadman as the manager’s oppressed secretary. She can dance. She has comic timing. Most of all, she can sing with a voice that in a year or two will be ready for stage or musical production in whatever form exists two years from now. Everyone should hope that it’s the stage so a live audience can experience the live performance.

Albert Peterson, the boss/songwriter and failed English teacher as played by Benjamin Henderson, carried his part with elegance and panache – and nerdiness. He was almost a match for Cameron.

As for Conrad, who doesn’t appear in person until well into the first act, it wasn’t just the screaming teens who were buzzing. I thought Isaiah Thompkins was a ringer – a twenty-something guy brought in from who knows where. Turns out he is a senior and a polymath as in a football player with a brain, headed for Brown University. He’d never acted before, according to my seatmates.

He reminds of a friend who was accepted at three medical schools and three architecture schools. Then my friend sang at a wedding, and the bandleader offered him a job. The rest of us were seriously jealous. Isaiah’s friends – mostly jocks by their size and letter jackets – seemed genuinely happy for him, if bewildered at a side of him they’d never witnessed before.

This Conrad with the twitchy lip and the swivel hips received a boost from costume designer Judy Kalinowski. She and her helpers (I know there were many) re-created the tough-guy wife-beater T and tight jeans, the over the top jumpsuit in silver, the tiger-striped too-short bathrobe, and the Army uniform. Fascinating that before his induction, he’d already received a sergeant’s stripes with “rocker,” all in glitter.

Two actresses alternated the role of Kim MacAfee, who is supposed to receive the kiss. The evening I saw it Danielle Berry served up a cute take on the girl on the verge of womanhood.

Hugo, the boyfriend who has to compete with Birdie, along with Kim’s parents, Harry and Doris MacAfee, provided the kind of support that stars pray for. Kate Connelly as Albert’s mother, Mae, became the perfect foil for Rose without completely upstaging everyone.

Two special shout-outs: to my neighbor the trumpeter Ryan Vecchitto – you made the singers sound terrific! And to my nephew Tony Petruzzello – you are the best Trainman ever!

Now here are the cultural problems. Rose is Rose Alvarez in this production. In the original she was Rose Grant, played by Chita Rivera. Both are from Allentown, Pennsylvania, but one has the feeling that Rose Alvarez has less of a problem finding her way back to her nonexistent Spanish “roots.”

Almost no one in the audience got the jokes about Mussolini or “the Jerries.” Interesting that no one thinks that’s an epithet any more. I doubt anyone under 50 knew who Ingrid Bergman was, and I had to look up the joke that confused Mussolini with her husband Roberto Rosselini.

The biggest cultural divide today comes with Birdie’s military induction. When Elvis received his draft notice, the Cold War had turned frigid. There was a serious possibility that men (yes, all men) could be deployed in huge numbers against the Soviet Union and against China. So when the teenyboppers sang “Bye Bye Birdie” there was a real risk that Private Conrad Birdie could face actual bullets on an actual battlefield. With our volunteer military and greater remove, maybe we should think about the deeper implications of saying goodbye to Birdie.

New York, New York, Part 2


Welcome, reborn NYTMag 

Here’s what I like and don’t like (mostly the latter):

  • NYTMag arrives with 220 pages, and like the New Yorker, several covers, though none is as thrilling.
  • NYTMag (I tried to replicate the typeface, but one has to buy it!) falls apart before I reach page 100 because cover(s) are too flimsy for the contents.
  • The text doesn’t start until page 30, and the index is buried on pages 34, 36, 38, and 40.
  • “Hello, World” has become a cliché.
  • The Editor’s Letter “Imagining the New” provides a helpful guide to what’s good and what’s not.
  • The big “not” is “New ideas on how to compose headlines.” They seem way retro rather than new. Here’s a headline from 1888: “High-Handed Haytians: Their Gunboats Insult an American Steamer. …” From the new Mag, accompanying Teju Cole’s insightful essay and the outrageously humanizing photographs of Roy DeCarava and others : “What is dark is not empty; if you know how to see, there are glories in the shadows.” The mysteries of a head reading “Glories in the Shadows” would draw more readers. The index titles the same piece “Seeing Blackness,” which even better and would confuse people less.
  • The features “eat,” “drink,” and “well” survive — a good thing.
  • What used to be the Endpaper and is now called “Talk” tops the other 219 pages.

Happy National Grammar Day


We should celebrate by finding good grammar, but that effort verges on the impossible these days. Instead, I’m making a list of the errors that set my teeth on edge and send me screaming for a calming pot of tea.

  • It’s vs. its. Microsoft doesn’t know the difference as I discovered in 2010.
  • Their vs. there vs. they’re. Spel Czech tried to change these, too. The outrage continues.
  • Using “due to” when “because” is intended.
  • With apologies to Star Trek, especially to the late lamented Mr. Spock, split infinitives.
  • Using “interrogate” when “investigate” or “research” is intended.
  • Between you and I.
  • Farther vs. further.
  • Over vs. more than.
  • Lie vs. lay.
  • Referring to corporations as “they” unless one is writing in Britain.
  • “Reason why.” One or the other will do.
  • “High rate of speed.” Why not just say “fast” or better yet, give an exact mph?

To end with a quote I found in an article about a man who earned a fabulous living writing porn: “Writing Factory/Beware of Flying Participles.”

New York, New York

credit: Istvan Banyai
credit: Istvan Banyai

It’s been a Big Apple couple of weeks. Here’s the first part of the finale.

Happy Birthday, New Yorker

I’m a bit in arrears offering congratulations on the magazine’s ninetieth birthday. What I like and don’t like (mostly the former):

  • The nine covers on the anniversary issue, though I had to go on line to figure out Istvan Banyai’s depictions of Eustace Tilley. Turns out his were the most traditional – no color, no women, no angst. And encapsulating the magazine’s class with a bit of whimsy. All those covers are an improvement over the dreadful version Tina B. produced in 1994 of Eustace’s slacker grandson in baseball cap. That one brought the end of my parents’ fifty-year subscription. It was a bittersweet parting as The New Yorker had provided my mother with some munificent checks over the years.
  • Tina B. added photographs. For the most part they suit the topic and the narrative.
  • Limiting errors. David Remnick informed Terry Gross that one editor found “four mistakes in a three-word sentence.” Accuracy lives: My friend Raven spoke of how the fact-checker of Rivka Galchen’s article on Misty Copeland (“An Unlikely Ballerina: The rise of Misty Copeland“) kept her on the phone, kept asking, kept asking. This for a few paragraphs in a seven-thousand-word article. On this eve of National Grammar Day, it is so reassuring  that some things don’t change.
  • Editor Remnick said of the story on Scientology: “… putting pressure on power, nonsense and chicanery of all kinds.” His variation of “oppressing/comforting” is far more eloquent than the original.
  • The “fist bump” cover, depicting the Obamas as ’60s style black radicals actually occasioned my first blog entry, since wiped out. My headline was “Where’s Alfred E. When We Need Him?” I’ll post it in a couple of days and link back here. It put The New Yorker on a par with Mad Magazine. I went looking for marginalia, “Spy vs. Spy,” and “Inside Celebrity Wallets.” My reaction occasioned one of the rare arguments with my mentor, who said those who didn’t understand the satire shouldn’t be reading The New Yorker. Ouch.


Tomorrow: I’ll celebrate National Grammar Day. Thursday: the second part of “New York, New York,” featuring the not as successful revamped New York Times Magazine or as it wants to be known online nytmag.